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What is Internal Fixation?

When a bone breaks, the resulting pieces need to be held in place for a certain period of time until it has knitted back together to become functional again. In order to ensure that the bone stays properly aligned and heals correctly, vets will often use an 'external fixation' method to hold things together from the outside, which is a somewhat less invasive option. However, 'internal fixation' is used more often, which involves surgically attaching retaining rods to the bones to hold them in place. This allows the vet to know that the bone will not move out of position and also lets the cat resume a normal level of activity much faster than if the limb was held in place from the outside. 

Internal Fixation Procedure in Cats

After x-raying the affected area, the vet will be able to formulate a plan to piece the broken bone back together. In order to perform this operation, the cat will be placed under general anesthesia and have the relevant area of its body shaved ad cleaned in preparation for an incision to be made. The surgeon will make a cut lengthways along the bone, maximizing its exposure. The next step is to realign the broken pieces of the bone and brace them in place against a metal plate, at which point screws are passed through each piece to affix them to one another. The surgeon will then suture the wound closed and clean the area around it. In most cases, the procedure will not take longer than a couple of hours, though some injuries may necessitate additional surgery alongside the fixation of the bone.

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Efficacy of Internal Fixation in Cats

Once the fixtures have been implanted into the cat, the animal will start to regain the use of the affected limb. However, this will be tempered somewhat by the rate at which the surgical wound is able to heal. If the vet plans to leave the fixtures in place, the bone will be permanently reinforced for the remainder of the cat's life. However, some owners may wish to explore alternative options which will allow for the easy removal of any metalwork from the cat's body. External fixation secures the pieces of the bone to rods that run parallel to the broken limb via screws that run through the skin. Although this allows for an easier removal of the implant, it can also hamper the cat's movements and the open wounds will provide a major vector for infection. 

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Internal Fixation Recovery in Cats

In total, the healing process after an internal fixation procedure can last for up to two months, depending on the age and condition of the cat involved. Whilst the surgical incision itself should heal fully within four weeks, the bone will need more time in which to knit back together. However, due to the internal nature of the implant, the cat will be able to resume some semblance of normal activity quite soon after the operation. For this reason, owners should try to limit their pet's activity for several weeks in order to conserve the animal's strength and lessen the risk of them picking up an infection. The cat will also need to take antibiotics and painkillers until their wound has fully healed. The vet will typically want to schedule additional appointments to check that the cat is healing optimally.

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Cost of Internal Fixation in Cats

The cost of an internal fixation procedure can vary quite a lot depending on factors such as the type of breakage of the bone, the number of fragments that need to be secured and the age of the cat itself. Typically, owners can expect the price to be between $1,000 and $1,500. Additional surgery to treat other associated injuries may add several hundred dollars more to the bill. External fixation, by contrast, costs roughly the same, though aftercare costs may be higher due to the increased level of attention needed.

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Cat Internal Fixation Considerations

Whilst the procedure is very effective at allowing bones to heal properly, there are some slight risk factors that owners should be aware of before they make the decision to pursue such a line of treatment. The first potential problem is that such a large surgery can provide an ample opportunity for bacteria to infect the cat after the procedure. As with any surgical procedure, this is certainly a risk, but with the proper use of antibiotics and a clean living environment, the cat should be able to avoid such a scenario. The second risk factor is the potential for the implant to cause discomfort to the cat. Although possible, this problem does not crop up nearly as regularly with instances of internal fixation as it does with external fixation and casting.

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Internal Fixation Prevention in Cats

The injuries that may lead to a cat requiring internal fixation to be performed on one of their bones are typically not resultant from accidents around the house, instead usually stemming from being hit and thrown by moving vehicles. Confining the cat to the house is the most that can be done to avoid such a scenario. Encounters with large hostile animals can also cause broken bones, so making sure the cat is trained to give things such as livestock or horses a wide berth can help reduce their risk of injury.

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Internal Fixation Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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